A good-looking set of year-end financial statements can be a source of pride for an electrical contracting firm. It’s too bad that even the best of those neatly bound booklets blessed by CPAs fail to contain critical indications of where the business may really be headed.
Essential as they may be, balance sheets, income statements and cash flow analyses are not very useful for measuring some of the most important trends in any kind of enterprise. For example, what if the company is on the verge of losing its best customer? Worse yet, what if others are about to defect? Therefore, service-oriented contractors need a timely and accurate system to constantly obtain customer feedback to ensure the job is getting done well.
In keeping with our philosophy of “sustainable service,” the strategy that we advocate for building and maintaining an ever-growing customer base, the solution for capturing reliable feedback from the field on a daily basis is not difficult. It can easily, and routinely, be accomplished at the conclusion of every job. Service-oriented electrical contractors can garner feedback at the end of each service call, using two survey questions near the signature line on the work order form:
1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being “poor,” 5 being “average” and 10 being “excellent”), circle how you would rate our [or place company name here] overall performance on this job?
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10
2. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being “very unlikely,” 5 being “likely” and 10 being “very likely”), please circle how likely you are to recommend our [or place company name here] services?
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10
When the completed work order reaches the electrical contractor’s office, survey results must be collected and flagged for action. While any results less than excellent are worthy of consideration, a serious complaint from a good customer provides an opportunity to address the issue internally and a second chance to keep the customer, both of which could result in larger problems if left unattended. Better yet, consistently excellent scores from established customers provide service and marketing managers with the names of good recommendations for prospective customers. Furthermore, studies indicate word-of-mouth as a primary source of new business for this industry.
Our thinking on this subject owes much to Frederick F. Reichheld, a business management consultant who summarized his studies of hundreds of companies in a memorable article for Harvard Business Review in December 2003. “The One Number You Need to Grow” is as true today as ever. Reichheld coached companies to focus on customers who have given them the highest ratings in satisfaction surveys. These customers naturally act as loyal “promoters” who will influence others to become customers. Companies with such strong allies in their customer base will always achieve the best results in their businesses, no matter what their industry may be.
Finally, it is important to note some limitations that each contractor should consider in this process. Many after-the-fact customer satisfaction feedback surveys are painfully tedious; therefore, relatively few customers go through the trouble of completing them. That’s why the on-the-spot, feedback device on a work order is easy to complete and difficult to avoid. Clients may be reluctant to give poor feedback on the invoice and in front of the service technician.
To remove such bias, consider doing occasional “spot checks,” where office managers call clients a day or two later to verify the information and ask for additional comments or suggestions. This follow-up also will let the client know you are reading their feedback and care about them.
The chore of constantly compiling complex surveys can be an expensive process for large corporations. It is well beyond the means of electrical contractors. But using the service work or
er form to capture customers’ responses provides a practical solution and, in some ways, a better solution than even the most well-funded efforts marketing-driven corporations are capable of yielding.
An electrical contractor who uses this simple procedure can post the latest, anonymous results on a “bulletin board” each week. Everyone in the company will know the scores and take part in success. That participation is especially important because even those who are tucked away in offices and cubicles, far from contact with customers, can maintain a sense of the significance of customer relationships. They will do far better if a customer calls their desk and they momentarily become a frontline representative of the company’s service orientation.
From time to time, companies may lapse into slumps in the quality of their service delivery. With a timely and effective method of measuring their customers’ attitudes, service-oriented contractors can uncover problems at the source and put field activities back on course.
MCCOY is assistant professor in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. SARGENT, a 40-year veteran of the electrical contracting business based in Pittsburgh, is the author of “Reinvent Your Contracting Business with Sustainable Service.” He can be reached at email@example.com.